I Am A ManicheeThursday, March 27, 2014
In 1973 when I was living in Mexico I saw Jesus Christ Superstar, Norman Jewison’s film adaptation of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s musical. Two things stood out for me.
One had to do with the song, Everything’s All Right. It might just be one of the first musical numbers in popular music to use the somewhat difficult, almost remote 5/4 time signature. Think of Paul Desmond’s composition, Take Five which appeared in the Dave Brubeck Quartet album Time Out in 1959.
Two was even more complex even though to my mind it a made lots of sense. It was that without Judas there would have been no betrayal, no crucifixion. This would meant that the concept of God sacrificing his Son, would cleanse mankind of original sin would not have happened.
I must admit here that once I read Heraclitus in 1963 I developed a belief that in Latin sounds really neat – coincidentia oppositorum. Heraclitus believed that all things were characterized by pairs of contrary properties. Hot included cold. Fast included slow and so on. Think of putting your toes into boiling hot water in the tub and thinking at first that the water is ice cold! As these contrary properties strive with each other they move towards unity and harmony. In a way Heraclitus was paving the way for my German friend whom I read in an Argentine Navy brig Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel’s dialectics - the idea, its opposite, their synthesis.
Luckily for me I live in the 21st century and no church, no Torquemada will burn me at the stake for having Manichaeistic beliefs. Manichaeism taught a dualistic cosmology that was a struggle between a good, spiritual world of light, and an evil, material world of darkness - God versus the devil - the good angels versus the bad ones – Apple versus Microsoft and so on.
Call me a Manichee.
My girlfriend, Californian Judy Brown, back in my youth around 1964 (when I discovered Heraclitus) did not believe in selflessness. In fact she (I never asked her if she had read anything by Ayn Rand) insisted that Christ had gone to the cross for the pleasure of giving his life away. Forget the pain. He (He) was not selfless but selfish. Brown would not budge from her philosophy and I could not find any argument in my limited brain to counter her.
Besides my limited brain I have been always plagued by an incipient nerdishness (somehow my Rosemary never noticed it, God bless her!). The first few times that a young girl looked at me (for more than a few seconds) I would look to see behind me to figure out what had awoken her interest. In the few times that I have been propositioned (the fingers of one hand will suffice) a somewhat tipsy woman who went by the handle of Emma Peel (very English, but not that English one) looked at me and said, “Let’s penetrate.” As you can imagine I didn’t. I was shocked. For too many years I wasn't aware that two of my ills had a name. I did not find out until 1976 that I was dyslexic and now I hear a lot of people talking about low self esteem. Who knew?
My friend Judy Brown would have said, “It wasn’t guilt that you were a married man that made you decline (in shock) but because you knew that Vancouver was much too small a town and in your circles you would have been caught. Brown, in her firm belief in selfishness, discounted the existence of guilt.
For me (remember I am a Manichee) jealousy is the other side of the coin of love, right on the other side of wrong. At all times I must make some sort of clear choice or apply situation ethics with a dash of Hegelian synthesis.
I hold to these truths:
1. You don’t mention the word abortion or allude to it if you want to be a politician.
2. You don’t argue with anybody for or against the existence of God.
3. You say nothing of gun control when you visit Texas or sip Pearl Beer with an inhabitant of that state. Natch, it also applies to the idea of socialized medicine, Canadian style.
4. Like dozing dogs you avoid all confrontation with ex-Georgia Straight dance critics.
5. This one is the most important as it applies to several close members of my family. Avoid bringing the idea of guilt even if you believe in it, as I do.
I believe that guilt is very much like our perception that heat burns. Because we have extreme abilities to sense heat in our fingers we can remove them quickly from a fire, the stove or the oven. One of the most remarkable novels I have ever read, Ingenious Pain, by Andrew Miller, tells the story of a boy who grows to be a young man who is unable to feel physical pain. Pain helps us avoid more of the same. It is part of our body’s self-preservation kit.
Guilt does to my head what pain does to my body. When I feel guilt, I know I have done something wrong, or not done something to make things right. A couple of my near and loved ones often tell me, “Don’t throw a guilt trip at me.”
I wish I could be more ingenious in helping them to see the consequences of not being a Manichee!
Happy to be sad
Happy to be sad